Charlie Bartlett


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Charlie Bartlett is a high school comedy which comes off as kind of a cross between Ferris Beuller and Rushmore. The titular hero is a rich kid who has been kicked out of every private prep school he might conceivably go to, thus dooming him to public school, where the somewhat soft-spoken and almost feminine young man shows up the first day carrying a leather attaché case and wearing a blue blazer crowned by a Latin insignia. As you can well imagine, he manages to last about a half hour before having his head stuck in the toilet.

But Charlie is a determined and crafty lad who wants to be liked, so he concocts a plan. He has unlimited access to prescription drugs through his family's psychiatrists, and the bully who stuck Charlie's head in the toilet has what it takes to distribute those drugs, so Charlie proposes a partnership. Charlie soon realizes that he can't just give everyone the same drugs, so he consults with them, determines their symptoms, then repeats those symptoms to one of his mom's many shrinks. Bingo. He's not only the school's drug dealer, but its psychiatrist as well.

Activities like this can't be kept secret very long, so it is inevitable that Charlie will come into conflict with the school's principal, and their relationship will be further strained by the fact that Charlie is dating the principal's daughter.

You're probably thinking that the film sounds like a typical high school comedy, probably a straight-to-vid. It's better than that. Maybe I can convey why by telling you that the film's authority figure is played by Robert Downey Jr., who's not exactly the first person you'd think of when casting a stern authority figure who needs to crush a teenage drug epidemic. Downey's character was once the beloved and cynical history teacher, a job for which he was perfectly suited. He was unwise enough to accept a promotion to principal, a job totally inappropriate for his natural iconoclasm, and the frustration of trying to function in the job drove him deep into the bottle. His wife left him, which drove him deeper into the bottle. As we pick up his story, the only thing he has left in life is his daughter, who is now having sex with the same kid who's disrupting his school, a certain Charlie Bartlett.

By allowing the principal to be a complex and somewhat sympathetic character, the script lifts the film above the level of the usual story about high school rebellion. In fact, the film allows all of the adults to live and breathe. Charlie's mother, although dotty, is also very interesting, kind-hearted and sometimes surprisingly wise. The local police chief prefers cooling off to busting heads. The only cartoon authority figure is a superintendent of schools who is despised by both the kids and the principal. The film can be forgiven that clumsy device for the complexity it exhibits elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the film's successes in characterization are not really matched by its wit. I really wish I could tell you it is a great comedy, because I liked its heart, and I liked its characters. But it isn't. It has a lot of the right ingredients, but it just isn't that funny. The film was originally supposed to be released last summer, but I can see why it was pulled from the summer schedule. It's not a rollicking, low-brow summer comedy, despite its premise. Without the laughs, the film comes up long on teen angst, and plays out as a thoughtful character study disguised as a comedy, kind of like Pump Up the Volume without the edge. If you're OK with that, it's a pleasant way to pass the time.

But if only it had a Spicoli. It coulda binna contenda.


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73 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive) (of 100)



7.8 IMDB summary (of 10)
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  • Two extras bare their breasts in a completely gratuitous scene. There is no nudity from any of the main characters.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


An entertaining movie, but only funny sporadically.